It's a "potentially lethal" prank that could soon be attached to some pretty serious legal consequences. The Washington Post reports a bill that would make the penalty for swatting—calling in false threats to prompt an armed law enforcement response on unsuspecting victims—up to 20 years in prison and heavy fines just survived a "crucial" vote by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The next stop for HR 2031 (the Anti-Swatting Act of 2015) is a floor vote in the House. One of the bill's sponsors, Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark has, herself, been a victim of swatting—a "frightening experience," she tells Esquire, that was likely prompted by her support for anti-swatting legislation. In that case, someone called police saying there was an active shooter in her house.
Though Esquire says the FBI doesn't maintain swatting stats, a press release from Clark cites an estimated 400 such incidents annually. While falsely phoning in bomb threats and terrorist attacks is currently a federal crime, making false reports of other emergency situations is not, and she wants to close that loophole. Online gamers, who often broadcast their gameplay in real time on the Internet, are often the target of swatting, and at the Post, Brian Fung observes that "the swatting trend underscores how easy it is, in the Internet age, for a harasser to dig up personal information belonging to their targets." It further puts a spotlight on "the growing militarization of police forces ... [which] makes it easier for more police departments to meet situations with guns and tactical gear."